By Andrew Mitchell
For people who already think the highway through Whistler is too busy, brace yourself — traffic demand and growth studies suggest it’s about to get a lot busier.
According to the information presented at Tuesday’s transportation open house, two-way peak hour traffic is expected to increase by 39 per cent, to 6,950 cars, by the year 2020. Regular traffic is expected to increase an average of 20 per cent daily.
Putting those percentages into perspective, travel time between the day skier lots in Whistler Village and Function Junction is expected to increase from an average of 14 minutes to 21 minutes with a reduction of average highway speeds from 60 km/h to 37 km/h. On busy Sunday afternoons, when cars are already crawling as day skiers and weekend visitors head back down the highway, things will only get worse.
The good news is that the municipality has recognized the problem early, and is working closely with the Ministry of Transportation to address the issues. According to James Hallisey, who is helping to coordinate the RMOW’s Whistler Resort Transportation Study and strategy, the solution will be heavily reliant on getting people to leave their cars at home, with a few modifications to the highway to improve the flow of traffic.
“It’s going to take a mix of carrots and sticks,” he said, adding that all options for getting people out of their cars are on the table. “The study that was done indicates that if we can achieve every one of the 16 study recommendations we have we can reduce traffic congestion without increasing the size of the highway.”
One plan calls for the addition of a second southbound lane from the village, while the Ministry of Transportation still has an unpopular plan on the books to build a Whistler bypass around the west side of town. The municipality wants to avoid both options if possible.
On the incentive side, the municipality is looking at options like expanding the range of free bus service, increasing the number of buses in the community, adding more regular commuter buses between Pemberton and Squamish, and creating programs to subsidize bus passes for employees.
On the disincentive side, options being considered include pay parking, the creation of a satellite day skier lot opposite Function Junction and shuttling visitors to the lifts.
There are several reasons why the highway through Whistler is expected to get busier between now and 2010.
The first is the increase in resident skiers, from 950 on an average day to 1,150. Day skiers are expected to increase from 1,550 to 2,700, while guest skiers will increase from 4,000 to 5,050.